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Hardcover A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam Book

ISBN: 0394484479

ISBN13: 9780394484471

A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam

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One of the most acclaimed books of our time--the definitive Vietnam War expos and the winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. When he came to Vietnam in 1962, Lieutenant Colonel John... This description may be from another edition of this product.

Customer Reviews

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The most comprehensive book about Vietnam ever! My highest recommendation!

Subtitled "John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam", this 1988 non-fiction book won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award and I can well understand why. I'm an avid reader of books about Vietnam. However, this 790 page epic, with an additional 70 pages of acknowledgments, footnotes and indexes, makes all those other books seem lightweight. Sixteen years in the writing, every word has been scrupulously researched. Not only are there detailed descriptions of the battles, however. The reader is given the opportunity of looking at the really big picture of the politics of the time. I'm not talking just about the national politics though. There were politics inside the military and between the Americans and the South Vietnamese. We read about real people and the human disaster and the interwoven complexities of waging this war. And, central to the book, we learn about of Lt. Colonel John Paul Vann whose opinions of how the war could be won often differed from those of his superiors. But we learn more than just about his military expertise. We learn about the man himself. We never really like the man. And yet, we do come to understand him with all his warts and demons. Neil Sheehan was an award-winning Vietnam War correspondent for United Press International and The New York Times. He knew John Vann personally as well as the other military and political leaders mentioned. But he goes much deeper into the character of John Vann, who died in a helicopter accident in 1972, than just his military experiences. He really gets into John Van, the person. And it's in these sections that the book reads like a novel, as we get to know John Vann, the man who could never really escape his early roots. He was born in the South, an illegitimate first child of a mother who neglected her children to the extent that they never had quite enough to eat while she had many gentleman friends and spent money on fancy clothes for herself. Eventually he enlisted in the army. That's where we learn about Korea and the blunderings and mistakes that happened there. I remember learning about this Korean war as a child. But this book really made its folly real to me. During John Vann's pilot training in the northeast, he met his wife, a respectable young woman from a middle class family. They married young and had five children. But John was a womanizer and couldn't seem to help himself. There were always at least one or two other women in love with him. And that doesn't even count the recreational pleasures he enjoyed in addition. Towards the end of his career he had a daughter with one of the Vietnamese woman he romanced while keeping another woman as a full time mistress. He also often exaggerated his good deeds when it came to his family, always trying to make himself a hero. This was a challenging book for me to read. There were details of military operation which I had to read slowly in order to understand. But once I got into it, a pictur

Could Not Put It Down

Having served in Pleiku for two years (4/68-4/70)in the II Corps Interrogation Center as an MACV Team 21 advisor to the ARVN, I turned two days ago to the last third of the book that has been in my library, untouched for years, to read about Vann's time as II Corps Advisor after I had left Pleiku. This was all I planned to read. But once I started I could not put it down --going to sleep was difficult. Mr Sheehan has performed a critical service by exposing how our system operated, and he has been justly recognized for it. I think Mr. Sheehan's readers can confirm what they probably already suspect: That all "great powers" operate like this -- from the beginning of time, and I'm sure to the end. The US was, tragically, no different than the English, Germans, French, Spanish, Medieval Popes, Chinese, Arabs, Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, you name them at their respective heights. The difference, which I believe Mr. Sheehan was telling us, is that in our relatively free and democratic system there is a greater likelihood that the truth will be communicated in an unvarnished manner, and acted upon, but this did not happen in Vietnam for the many and varied reasons so vividly explained by Mr. Sheehan. What is so incredibly amazing, and I think a tremendous strength in this book, is how close one man, John Paul Vann, got to making the truth crystal clear at a high enough level where it might have done some good at the crucial time just prior to the beginning of the US military buildup. Think about it -- a lowly Light Bird Colonel ready to give the briefing of his life at one of the highest policy levels, and it was stopped only hours before the dam could have been burst. One area I was hoping Mr. Sheehan would cover was the number of deaths our 30 year involvement in Vietnam led to, which I believe is perhaps as many as 2,000,000 Vietnamese, out of a population of perhaps 16,000,000, or an equivalent of nearly 35,000,000 Americans. Whenever I hear people talk about our 58,000 plus dead or our MIA (and I cried at The Wall last year suddenly and unexpectedly), I cannot help but think of the millions lost by an incredibly brave people - a people who fought the Chinese for four thousand years and who (nearly) all cried when Ho Chi Minh died -- right in the middle of the war!Mr. Sheehan made me think and feel deeply about my two years in Vietnam for the first time in many years. I remember very clearly my Vietnamese counterparts (but I only remember two Americans by name, Captain Matz and Lt. Gerber), and I often wonder what happened to them -- I wrote to Ha Van Cuong until 1973 when Pleiku fell and then communications ceased.I deeply respect a system which allows a literary and reporting genius like Mr. Sheehan to educate us and thereby improve our chances that such a human disaster will not happen again, at least not on our American watch, for however much longer we will hold this top dog position. At the same time, I believe it is true, as hist

Single Best Book Yet Written About Americans In Vietnam

Sociologist C.Wright Mills once wrote that the key to meaningful social analysis was to understand the actions of an individual in the context of his or her social situation, to place the person in a historical context so as to better appreciate the aspects of the social environment that motivate the individual to act and react in a particular way. Thus, to understand the actions of a middle aged German Jew in the context of the 1930s, one must understand the nature of the Nazi society he lived his daily routine within. Here we can observe how brilliantly this principle can be used with journalist Neil Sheehan book, "A Bright Shining Lie", a book in which he not only tells the story of a single man, John Paul Vann, but also explains the history of American involvement in Vietnam. This is a marvelous tale of a modern tragedy, not only for Vann himself, but for the American people and of course, the poor Vietnamese, who had nowhere to run when the bombs started falling. Vann began his involvement with Vietnam as an Army Lt. Colonel. Because of both some personal troubles and his outspoken criticism of the ineffective and unnecessarily cruel way in which the war was being conducted, he was in effect cashiered, and he returned briefly to civilian life back in the United States. Yet Vann couldn't help but be drawn back into this country he had fallen in love with while doing his initial military tour. He found the opportunity to return to Vietnam as a civilian supporting the American military mission, and threw himself into the opportunity with characteristic energy and enthusiasm. He seemed to have an almost instinctive understanding of how to conduct an effective counter-insurgency operation, and based on his tireless efforts and his success in pacifying the area he was assigned, he gained increased credibility and influence within both the American military as well as the South Vietnamese government, and as a result became much more influential and powerful. Yet in the moments of his success Vann began to fatefully turn away from precisely those perceptions regarding the nature of the conflict and the need to be effectively engaged at the micro-level, and he, like many other individuals prosecuting the war, turned to more traditional and massive intervention techniques such as carpet bombing, that were not only indiscriminate, but also tended to be counterproductive in the longer term. Vann's slow but inexorable corruption by power and influence is a familiar tale, and indeed sadly documents one specific example of a widespread phenomena which continues to this day within our military; that of careerism. It is easy to understand how the quest for rank in order to do what one believes is right gets twisted into an eventual accommodation with the very devil one is combating in order to get ahead. Of course, once makes the necessary accommodation to succeed in a military career by mindlessly following orders, then when the particular officer eventual

Brilliantly told tale of America in Vietnam

"A Bright Shining Lie" is a masterfully written history of America in Vietnam. Written by Neil Sheehan, a former Southeast Asian correspondent for United Press International (UPI) and later "The New York Times," this book combines a biography of John Paul Vann, considered by some to be ". . . the one irreplaceable American in Vietnam," with a spellbinding narrative of the miscalculations, blunders, and self-deceptions which marked America's decade-plus involvement in Vietnam. John Paul Vann's career in Vietnam spanned a decade, from its beginning in 1962 with Vann as U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel and advisor to the South Vietnamese, to its end in 1972 with his death in a helicopter crash, Vann having become the civilian equivalent of a two-star general. During his decade in Vietnam, Vann was consistently frustrated and angry with the pusillanimous and corrupt performance of South Vietnamese forces and the frequent incompetence of American senior political and military leaders. He repeatedly urged his superiors, through normal channels and in the press, that the U.S. government could not defeat the Communist forces in South Vietnam with its military might alone. The war could only be won by the South Vietnamese with American assistance. That help, Vann recommended, should take the form of facilitating social change and providing military equipment and advice. By the time of his death, however, Vann's views had changed. After the near destruction of the Vietcong during the 1968 Tet offensive, he came to believe that America could indeed achieve a military victory in Vietnam. Sheehan explores every aspect of Vann's life with the keen eye of the best biographers. Vann is seen at his best: possessed with a first-rate intellect and a singleness of purpose which led him to rise above a childhood filled with poverty and neglect; highly patriotic and courageous; and imbued with a strong sense of professional integrity that gave him tremendous credibility at the most senior levels of the U.S. government. Also seen is Vann's darker side: his ability to manipulate others to his ends; his dark sexual compulsions (which ultimately led him to ruin his marraige and endanger his career); his callousness toward his friends and family; and his all-consuming self-centeredness. Interwoven with Vann's biography is a brilliant survey of the Vietnam conflict from the time of the French defeat at Dienbienphu in 1954 to Vann's death in 1972. Three areas of this book were especially interesting to me: first, the author's account of the battle of Ap Bac in 1963, where American advisors were first seriously bloodied by the Vietcong, and Vann's attitudes about the overall conduct of the war took shape; second, Vann's efforts, after his retirement from the Army, to get the U.S. government to change its Vietnam policy - and the political machinations within the government at work against him; and third, Vann's last months in Vietnam as the
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